High School Credit Awarded for outside Applied Music Study: A Review of Early Twentieth-Century Practices in the United States

By Platt, Melvin | Journal of Historical Research in Music Education, October 2009 | Go to article overview

High School Credit Awarded for outside Applied Music Study: A Review of Early Twentieth-Century Practices in the United States


Platt, Melvin, Journal of Historical Research in Music Education


This paper focuses on the phenomenon of high school graduation credit being offered for applied music study completed under outside private music teachers. (1) Specifically, this narrative chronicles how it was conceived, introduced, spread, and declined during the first third of the twentieth century. That development was part of a larger trend as high school curricula expanded to include music appreciation and harmony study as well as participation in choirs, orchestras, and later, bands. In order to fully understand this topic, we need to set the historical stage.

School music instruction as a part of the regular curriculum was introduced in Boston, Massachusetts in 1838, but it was established in other cities relatively slowly between that time and the end of Civil War in 1865. In each instance, when music instruction was introduced, a highly motivated and determined music teacher, supported by local citizenry, led the struggle to persuade the local school authorities to approve music as a regular part of the school program. However, the last third of the nineteenth century witnessed a number of remarkable changes in American public education and in higher education. Those changes were stimulated by notable economic, technological, social, and political developments. During the last twenty-five years of the century, the nation witnessed a significant influx of immigrants from northern and western Europe, a large trans-Mississippi migration to the Great Plains and beyond, a substantial growth in population in northern cities, increased industrialization, a spurt in scientific discovery, and peace between 1865 and 1898. Fueled by economic growth, a population surge, a higher standard of living, and an increased interest in education by the general public, the number of students enrolled in public schools increased significantly.

Those developments created conditions that permitted the following transforming changes in school music instruction to occur:

1) an increased acceptance of music instruction in primary and grammar grades in many cities and towns,

2) the wide use of graded music series for children in primary and grammar schools,

3) music instruction in primary and grammar schools taught by growing numbers of classroom teachers guided by music supervisors,

4) chorus singing in high schools,

5) summer training courses for school music teachers sponsored by book companies, and

6) emerging courses of study for music teachers in normal schools. (2)

These changes were aided by the Child Study Movement and Progressivism gradually developing in educational thought, a number of conservatories of music and music departments in colleges and universities being established, and national music organizations forming (MTNA, 1876, and the NEA Music Section, 1884). (3) The rise of the private music teacher, community choral societies arising, and a number of professional symphony orchestras forming also contributed indirectly to the growth of music education in the public schools. (4)

Conceptualizing a Plan for Applied Music Study

By the beginning of the twentieth century, such encouraging conditions led to high school music curricula being expanded beyond chorus singing to include courses in harmony and music appreciation. Some of those who taught these early music courses include Mary Regal, Springfield, Massachusetts (1896); Frederick Chapman, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1899); Francis Elliot Clark, Ottumwa, Iowa (around 1900); Will Earhart, Richmond, Indiana (1901); Peter Dykema, Indianapolis, Indiana (early 1900s); and Osbourne McConathy, Chelsea, Massachusetts (1904). These courses were taught one or two days a week, were rarely more than one year in length and, for the most part, were introduced in smaller school districts where change could be accomplished with less bureaucratic difficulty. These isolated and widespread efforts set the stage for a development that is the subject of this study--a greatly expanded high school music curriculum that included multi-year courses in music theory, music appreciation, and applied music study under outside private teachers for credit toward graduation.

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